The West cannot ignore the suffering of the Global South and bring global developmental issues to a standstill due to the Ukraine war, India's G20 summit negotiator Amitabh Kant said.
Kant's scorching comments Wednesday came as the G20 meet on education under India's G20 presidency is underway in Amristar.
"Europe cannot bring growth, poverty, global debt, all developmental issues to a standstill across the world," Kant told reporters Wednesday, as reported by Reuters. "Especially when the south is suffering, especially when 75 countries are suffering from global debt, especially when one-third of the world is in recession, especially when 200 million people have gone below poverty line. Can that one war bring the entire world to a standstill?" he asked.
Kant, who is designated as India's G20 sherpa, said people have become "wasted" as the world is fixated on the ongoing war.
His call also echoes the comments made by Bangladesh's foreign minister A.K.Abdul Momen earlier this month on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers' meeting in New Delhi. The minister had demanded that companies profiting from the conflict should be asked to compensate poor nations impacted by it. He had also said that developing nations should be consulted before any sanctions and counter-sanctions are imposted by the warring parties.
"Nutrition has been impacted, health outcomes have been impacted, learning outcomes have been impacted, people have become stunted and wasted and we are just concerned with one Russia and Ukraine war," Kant said in New Delhi. "The world needs to move on and Europe needs to find a solution to its challenges."
With the war having disrupted global trade, poor and developing nations have argued they have more pressing problems — like food security, energy crisis, mounting debt, climate change related problems — to deal with instead of getting tangled in the Russia-West geopolitical rivalry.
"India's emphasis on global poverty as a larger global issue than Ukraine makes sense if one keeps in view India's national interest, as such an emphasis does not require India to get entangled in power politics as in Ukraine," Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra, professor of political science at Florida State College at Jacksonville, told International Business Times.
"War in Ukraine and global poverty are global issues affecting the globe in different ways, but depending on a nation's, and in this case India's, priorities and national interest, one issue can be put forward as more important than the other," he added. "It also demonstrates India's exasperation at the protracted nature of the conflict, possible widening of its nature and scope with the active involvement of more powers, and the risk of jeopardizing its relations with either of the major powers."
When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a special military operation, G7 countries and several other democracies condemned it, while India, South Africa, China and many from the Global South refused to be drawn into taking sides.
Kant's comments show that there "is a growing frustration with a war status quo in Europe, which is economically debilitating from the Global South's perspective — there is a frustration in Europe too but the concerns are different from those of the Global South," Vivek Mishra, a fellow with Indian think tank ORF's Strategic Studies Programme, told IBT.
"If you take the Ukraine-Russia war, for instance, it may well be existential for both Europe and Global South — but in two very different contexts," Mishra explained. "Unlike the threats which the world faced due to the pandemic, the war in Europe is accompanied with the possibility to stop it through negotiations. Perhaps the compulsions of the ongoing war are still far outweighing other concerns like global food security and therefore the juggernaut continues."
India, as the current G20 host, has tried to represent the voice of the Global South in the grouping.
India's response to the war was largely out of self-interest, said Mahapatra. "National policies are guided by the concern to promote national interest. This concern is at display in the context of Ukraine," he said.
"India, which has remained a traditional partner of Russia, plays a delicate balance by openly calling for peaceful resolution of the conflict and gearing its channels in that direction while at the same time not supporting the U.S. and allies' position, which is to condemn Russia as the aggressor and support Ukraine by providing weapons while exploring solutions to the conflict," he added.
But he said that, in the grand scheme of things, India is expected to continue strengthening its relationship with the U.S. and Quad countries. The Quad is a grouping of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan.
Though the grouping is sometimes dubbed the "Assian NATO," it is not a formal military alliance. Quad members cooperate across various fields including Covid-19 and natural disasters, climate change and sustainability.
"India as a major power in the post-Cold War globalized world is interested in developing close ties with the U.S., and leverage its democratic culture and demographic connections to promote its national interest," Mahapatra said. "As the Quad relationship suggests, India is interested to strengthen relationships with these countries to address China's moves in Asia while at the same time continuing relations with Russia, a major weapons' supplier and a supporter of its position on issues like Kashmir and terrorism."
India will still try to mark its presence on the global stage without possibly ever having to pick a side in the divide caused by the Ukraine war.
"This is an important year for India's leadership at the global stage," Mishra said. "This year could have seen incredibly high momentum in India's engagements with Europe and the west on G20 collaborations if the west remained unshackled from any combat commitments."
"India still has a very expansive G20 agenda despite the war but the repercussions of the war on the global economy and a resultant fractured world order have all led to a moderated achievement," he continued. "As a champion of the Global South's concerns and one of the largest economies, it is incumbent upon India to talk about other pressing concerns, which may not always coincide with that of the West."